When the weather outside is frightful, you'd better believe people aren't out shopping.
That's clearly been the case in recent months, as the Commerce Department's latest reading on retail sales shows. In January, sales fell by 0.4 percent, after an earlier decline of 0.1 percent in December. While not a huge dip, sales disappointed expectations, as economists had forecast no change for the month.
The culprit? Extreme weather, with all signs pointing to more on the way.
"There is general weakness across the board, but the fact that we had declines in spending at restaurants and sporting goods stores and vehicle sales dropped, those are indicative that the weather did play a role," says PNC Senior Economist Gus Faucher. He adds that "the weather could hit sales again in February just because people put off shopping."
On Thursday, U.S. businesses from Alabama to Virginia, reported ice accumulation knocking out power and slowing foot traffic. Presently, more than half a million customers are without power along the East Coast, while the roads remain difficult to navigate. Further, more than 6,400 U.S. flights were canceled today as of 5 p.m., according to flight tracker FlightAware.
Such conditions are obviously disruptive for any business that needs to be mobile or that relies on employees being able to make it into work. Yet the poor weather is particularly vexing for small business owners who cater to Valentine's Day shoppers.
"In a nutshell it has been really hard, especially this past week," says John Doyle, the co-owner of John and Kira's, a chocolate shop in Philadelphia. "We shipped all of our Valentine's Day chococlate orders on Tuesday fearing the storm and we stopped taking all Valentine's Day orders at 4 p.m. yesterday, which probably cost us $14,000 in sales." Fortunately, that was a good bet, as UPS shut down delivery service in Philadelphia on Thursday, he says, adding: "It was the best decision ever."
New York City-based grocery delivery service Fresh Direct also implemented inclement weather plans, which involved making deliveries earlier than previously scheduled. "We notified customers well in advance that their delivery would be impacted by the storm and encouraged them to change their delivery day," says spokeswoman, Amanda Cortese Vogel.
To be sure, some seasonal businesses that benefit from snowy weather, for instance, ski resorts and winter-weather gear providers aren't complaining about chilly conditions. And the companies that have an ecommerce arm aren't feeling too much pain.
But if you're in the camp that's counting down the days until spring, here are a few stories that should (hopefully) help you get through the waning days of winter: